The Starbucks across from Rosa’s work was decorated in infuriating shades of pink and red. She felt like there had been a board meeting at headquarters where some up-and-coming slimewad said, “Hey! Let’s make sure our decorations for February make it clear this is Rosa Gonzalez’s twenty-eighth consecutive Valentine’s Day without a boyfriend.”
Admittedly, it was also a Monday, which was never good, and she was still slightly hungover from the “Almost Thirty and Still Single” pity party Yasmin had hosted the night before. At least she wasn’t twenty-seven and perpetually single, like Keisha. Rosa had had boyfriends. They just were all allergic to having a girlfriend on Valentine’s Day.
She shivered and shuffled away from the door as the snaking line began to move. At least with no boyfriend, she didn’t have to care that her black puffy jacket was warm but not flattering. There was nobody to flatter.
As slow costumer after slow customer placed their orders, Rosa pulled out her cell phone to check the time. She would definitely be late for work now, but what did it matter? A Master’s in Art History and she was still entering data into spreadsheets. No one ever looked at them after she finished, anyway. If she left the line now, she’d still be late. A few more minutes and she’d be late and have her caffeine. Anything to avoid the tar the office assistant called coffee.
Rosa loosened her tense shoulders when it was finally her turn to order. The paper hearts and PDA were making her nauseated. “I’ll have a grande caramel–”
“Macchiato,” a deep, but nearly familiar, voice said from behind her. “Nonfat, extra whip, extra hot. And my treat.”
Stunned, Rosa turned to stare at the man who dared to know her order. He was short but muscular, hair buzzed. He had a five o’clock shadow covering his dark skin even at eight in the morning. He looked familiar, but she couldn’t place him and her mouth had gone too dry to speak.
“Nothing for me,” the man insisted to the cashier. Then, “Come on, Rosa. Other people are waiting to order.”
Numbly, she moved to wait for her drink, then evaluated her untidy hair and ugly puffy jacket against Man Who Knew Both Order and Name. She didn’t even come close to comparing. Even her usually on-point makeup game was only half-functioning. The hangover had provided excellent assistance in sleeping through three alarms.
When her drink was called, the familiar stranger picked it up and took her by the arm. “It’s been forever. We should go somewhere. Catch up.”
“I do know you?” she managed.
He laughed, but only after a hint of disappointment deepened the shadows beneath his cheekbones. “Yes. And you’re well-acquainted with the backseat of my car, too.”
Rosa zipped through her catalog of ex-boyfriends until she got to senior year of high school. Miguel. He returned to her in floods, though ten years ago he was at least nearly as awkward as she was. None of his awkwardness remained. “You joined the army. You said you weren’t coming back.” It was kind of like a hello, she supposed.
“Ten years was long enough. I’m in Chicago for good this time. What have you been doing?”
Rosa took a long drink of her coffee, scalding be damned. What do you tell the man who was your first kiss and your first “I love you,” the man who knew you wanted to design costumes for the theater and the man you once wanted to marry?
Miguel had asked her to be his girlfriend in March of her junior year, his senior, but ended it abruptly at the end of January, saying he had joined the military and didn’t want to make her wait for him. She would have, though. He was a man she easily could have waited for. Walking with him now, her glove on his forearm, it felt like she had been waiting this whole time.
“I work for a collections company,” she finally admitted. She’d rather be mistaken for one of the collectors than say she just did data entry for them. “In fact, I’m late. I should go.”
Miguel stopped her with a hand on each of her triceps. “Call in sick. Please.”
Rosa thought about protesting, but she never used her paid time off. Student loans wasted any money she might have had for vacations, and she never took time off just because. “Fine.” Even through her puffy jacket and sweater and his gloves, the energy pulsated between them. She hoped he would lead her inside soon so she could ditch the jacket and touch his hand properly.
“Can we go inside somewhere? I can email in, but not with gloves on.”
He smiled. It was everything she remembered, but there was something about it that made her nervous. “My apartment is just a few blocks away. Oh, Rosa, we have so much catching up to do.”
The way his tone changed almost made her turn around and march right back to work. But she followed him anyway.
Today’s prompt was “You bump into an ex-lover on Valentine’s Day, the one whom you often call ‘The One That Got Away.’ What happens?”
Since the story got away from me a little, I will continue Rosa and Miguel’s interactions for the next few days, see where they take us. Not all of the prompts are appropriate for their story, but I’ll make as many work as I can. What do you think?